On Trotros

This orig­i­nally appeared on mis​ter​agye​man​.blogspot​.com on September 12, 2014.

Civilization as we’ve known it in the urban, met­ro­pol­i­tan, Western sense, is defined by one resource above all others: space. A very good per­cent­age of our inno­va­tion goes to max­i­mize space: the sky­scrap­ers, the green­houses, the trans­porta­tion. Especially in trans­porta­tion. Soon, they say, we’ll have planes with seats that sup­port you at a 75-degree angle, securely strapped in. It might have up to three times the capac­ity, but I fear it will not gain the sup­port of the Mile High Club.

Trotros don’t give you much space, espe­cially the ones that have the extra row of seats installed. But by forc­ing us into disco-floor inti­macy, trotro eco­nom­ics exploit price-volume dynam­ics to turn a little profit with lower fares. Then the recent fuel price hikes have com­bined with seri­ous car-to-road over­pop­u­la­tion to give these shared buses new impor­tance. They even got rebranded to appeal to the urban youth. Now they are called ‘troskis’ with crazy pan­el­ing and killer sub­woofers; even the creak­ing is more polished.

A year ago, I would have ranked the troski with the guil­lo­tine and Chloroquine. A teacher once told me that tall people had their bones broken when they were buried; nobody gets more than six feet, he said. With what hap­pens to my kneecaps in trotros, I can believe it. When I exit a trotro, my first few steps cause the observer to sus­pect my blood alco­hol level isn’t on the level. But now I bear my cross with dig­nity; I even learned the secret hand signals.

This will get you to Circle. 

Trotros pro­vide an excel­lent seat for the drama of life. You see the loners, the cou­ples, the saints, the drunks. You get all sorts of inter­est­ing sounds and smells and spec­ta­cles. A woman once brought a full dinner out of her bag, and bought some pineap­ple from a hawker to finish it off. That ticks all three sen­sory boxes. She looked so moth­erly, you could­n’t hate her for it. Otherwise I would have released the stan­dard Trotro Glare- you know, that look that preaches hell­fire to those who step out of line. It would be sim­pler to say, ‘Ma, it is never pleas­ant watch­ing some­body eat okro soup, espe­cially out of a rubber.’ But this is not done. If you dared to, you would find your­self on the receiv­ing end of the Glare.

It’s inter­est­ing how random col­lec­tions of people imme­di­ately become a sov­er­eign nation of 12 to 20 people when they are shut up in a rick­ety car, with noth­ing in common but their des­ti­na­tion. There’s a def­i­nite trotro cul­ture, and it’s impor­tant to learn its rules before you get in.

Most impor­tant of these- the lan­guage. It’s a simple lan­guage. It has only one ele­ment: the Trotro Poke. (I should do a poster- “Troskis: Poking Before It Was Cool.”) You get poked in the small of the back; you turn your head and find money waving at you. You pass it to the mate, and jerk your thumb back to show who sent it. Then you get poked again; this time, you pre­sumed to make your­self com­fort­able on your seat, for­get­ting that there are human legs prop­ping you up from behind. Normally if you mas­sage some­body’s kneecaps so inti­mately, they would scream and knock you. This is not done in troskis. You get the Poke. And another; this time, some­body’s bus stop’s coming up. You could poke them in the back as they pass, just to say good­bye. Possibly soon this custom will be estab­lished. Currently, it is not done. Perhaps they fear that some would take advan­tage. If you remem­ber, this was why the ven­er­a­ble insti­tu­tion of ‘For The Last’ was removed.

Trotros give you real drama. I’ve seen a few rela­tion­ships blos­som on the Tema-Accra motor­way; I’ve seen a mate turn the bus into a pri­mary-school class­room with his ‘Good Morning’ and his little prayer; I’ve paid money to a funky char­ac­ter in red bow-tie, sus­penders and knee-high socks. I prefer the nice sur­prises, like when you dis­cover that the lady next to you is play­ing Satchmo in her ear­buds; when frail old ladies trust­ingly give both arms to the mate, who invari­ably helps them down with the loving care of a pet nephew; and when you sit down and you get an espe­cially vig­or­ous Poke, and turn and see the smil­ing face of an old friend. This last one is espe­cially enjoy­able, but the great­est thing that hap­pens on troskis is the honesty.

There’s a lot of motive for decep­tion in trotro trans­ac­tions. First of all, it’s hard to shake the sus­pi­cion that mates are dis­ad­van­taged in math­e­mat­ics. With or with­out edu­ca­tion, they shoot this theory full of holes, but it stays at the back of the mind. So there’s that. Then also, there’s a lot of people, a lot of money, with dif­fer­ent rates for dif­fer­ent dis­tances. How hard would it be for a pas­sen­ger to slip out a note as they’re pass­ing the money on, and leave the mate to wonder who’s lying? And I’ve seen people lie about where they got on, how much change they should get, or if they paid already. But this hap­pens way less than you’d think. That says very nice things about us mem­bers of the Troski Nation.

I appre­ci­ate mates even more for being honest. Once a lady dropped a bundle of twen­ties. I noticed, but the mate got there first. He gave her the Poke and politely inquired if she was actively trying to reduce her burden of wealth. The lady gra­ciously explained that she could handle the weight, thank him very kindly. You know that kind of grat­i­tude you feel toward people who are nicer to you than they need to be? I have that much respect for mates, enough that I for­give their lapses. Now, in a coup worthy of Tom Sawyer, the crafty dri­vers are get­ting rid of their assis­tants and bestow­ing hon­orary Matehood on pas­sen­gers. And like Tom Sawyer’s young busi­ness part­ners, the pas­sen­gers are tick­led, looks like. Ghana’s answer to the Oyster Card? The future looks inter­est­ing for troskis.